One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead
Penguin Press, 1st edition, 2007
Genre: Non-fiction, sociology
Synopsis & Review:
Using the American wedding as a rosetta stone, in One Perfect Day writer Rebecca Mead poses a series of questions that cut to the heart of our national identity. Why, she asks, has the American wedding become an outlandishly extravagant, egregiously expensive, and overwhelmingly demanding production? What is the derivation of the nuptial imperative upon brides and grooms to observe tradition while at the same time using the wedding as a vehicle for expressing their personal style? What does an American wedding tell us about how Americans consume, relate, and live today? One Perfect Day masterfully mixes investigative journalism and social commentary to explore the workings of the wedding industry-an industry that claims to be worth $160 billion to the U.S. economy and which has every interest in ensuring that the American wedding business becomes ever more lavish and complex. Taking us inside the workings of the wedding industry-from the swelling ranks of professional wedding planners to department stores with their online wedding registries to the retailers and manufacturers of wedding gowns to the Walt Disney Company and its Fairytale Weddings program-Rebecca Mead skillfully holds the mirror up to the bride’s deepest hopes and fears about her wedding day and dissects the myriad goods and services that will be required for her role within it.
Weddings are no longer a rite of passage, no longer a transition from childhood to adulthood, or an initiation into a sexual or domestic intimacy, nor necessarily a religious ritual. The result of this cultural shift is that the event itself has taken on an ever-increasing momentousness shaped as much by commerce and marketing as by religious observance or familial expectation. The American wedding gives expression to the values and preoccupations of our culture. For better or worse, the way we marry is who we are. (Jacket copy)
If you’ve been involved in planning a wedding recently, you might have found yourself bemused by an excess of consumerism. If you’ve missed out, you could peruse InStyle Weddings, Modern Bride, Martha Stewart Weddings, or even log on to The Knot.com, one of the most popular wedding planning sites online. Alternatively, turn on your TV and check out Say Yes to the Dress, Bridezillas, My Dream Wedding, Platinum Weddings (now followed by Platinum Babies, wtf), or any number of the myriad wedding-related shows out there that detail just what the American wedding should be. It’s bewildering, overwhelming, and even suffocating, like the “white blindness: Rebecca Mead describes after a sojourn in a bridal salon: “a reeling, dumbfounded state in which it becomes impossible to distinguish between an Empire-waisted gown with Alencon lace appliqués and a bias-cut spaghetti strap shift with crystal detail, and in the exhausted grip of which I wanted only to lie down and be quietly smothered by the fluffy weight of it all, like Scott of the Antarctic.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Captive by Victoria Holt
Doubleday, 1st edition, 1989
Genre: Gothic romance, historical romance, romantic suspense
Synopsis & Review: Rosetta Cranleigh is of a genteel background; her parents are both respected scholars of the ancient world, her father working for the British Museum, and their research and studies are the mainstay of their existence. In fact, they hardly see to notice they have a child, despite naming her for one of the century’s most important archeological discoveries. (Quick aside: I was so enchanted by the phrase “Rosetta Stone” when I was little that I invented several characters with that name, and would draw them endlessly, making up stories of their adventures to go along with the drawings. NERD ALERT) Rosetta spends most of her time belowstairs with the servants and her nurse, until a governess is hired for her education. Fortunately, Miss Felicity Wills is young and sympathetic, and remains Rosetta’s dearest friend even after she eventually marries and Rosetta goes off to school.
When Rosetta is eighteen, her parents take her on an extended trip, to South Africa and then to America, for a lecture tour, affording her an unusual opportunity to see the world. On board, she befriends two young men, the dashing Lucas Lorimer and a deckhand, John Player. A terrible storm strikes, forcing the passengers to evacuate the ship, and Rosetta is separated from her parents. Fortunately, John Player finds a lifeboat, and the two rescue the injured Lucas Lorimer from a capsized lifeboat. After a few days at sea, the three wash up on a tiny, deserted atoll on the North African coast. Because of their desperate situation, John confesses to Rosetta that he is not who he seems to be: he is actually a fugitive named Simon Perrivale, a bastard from a gentry background, fleeing accusations of his eldest brother’s murder. He claims his innocence, and Rosetta believes him. A ship spots the stranded travelers, and pirates rescue them from certain death. Lucas ransoms himself, but the blonde, blue-eyed Rosetta and strong Simon are too valuable, and are sold into captivity. The ship soon makes Constantinople, where Rosetta enters the pasha’s seraglio and Simon labors as a gardener.
Safe from sexual debasement until she has recovered from her ordeal, Rosetta befriends the French Nicole, mother to the pasha’s eldest son, Samir. This draws her into the harem’s intrigues, and when Rosetta foils a threat to Samir, Nicole takes pity on the English girl. With the help of the chief eunuch, Rosetta and Simon both escape into the city, where she goes to the British embassy, and John disappears, planning to make his way to Australia.
Rosetta discovers that her father is still alive and eager to see her in London, though her mother was lost at sea. Her capable aunt takes over the household, leaving Rosetta at loose ends, until she stays with Felicity, who reunites her with Lucas, now crippled and a shadow of his former self. Upon learning that Lucas hails from the same area of Cornwall as Simon, Rosetta goes there to investigate, hoping to uncover the truth of the Perrivale murders. She takes a position as governess in the Perrivale house, and though Lucas warns her of danger, Rosetta cannot rest until she clears Simon’s name.
Funny how the captivity narrative is one of the most enduring topos in Western popular fiction. In America, the Indian captivity tale—from Mary Rowlandson to The Searchers—has endured, changing thematically to reflect social concerns. In Colonial America, there was often an emphasis on religion, and the captivity functioned as punishment for sin. Only the strong who remained true to their faith could survive to pass the tale on to a receptive audience. Similarly popular is the Barbary captivity narrative, that of white Christians in bondage in North Africa, or even farther East in the Ottoman world. When tales of Barbary captivities took hold of the popular imagination, North America was in the early stages of colonization, and images of North African “barbarian” and North American Indian “savages” were exchanged; description of either Other were interchangeable or comparative. It might be said that the captivity narrative forms an integral part of North American identity in literature, and the understanding of the Other as represented by the indigenous peoples of North America. Worth exploration is also how the descriptions of white captivity in Africa and the Near East might reflect anxieties about black slavery in North America. But that’s a topic for someone’s history paper, not for me and Victoria Holt. Read the rest of this entry »